Friday, October 13, 2017

Boswell, Indiana--"Hub of the Universe"



I could read the first two words of Boswell's slogan ("Hub of") on its freshly-painted water tower near the center of town and tried to guess the rest of it as I circled around it.  It came as a great shock that this sad, tiny forlorn town of dilapidated and vacant buildings considered itself the hub of "THE UNIVERSE" of all things.  Boswell was so far gone there weren't even "for rent" signs in any of the closed down businesses on its main street.

Town slogans are prone to exaggeration, but never as extreme as this.   Even when it was at its peak population of 998 residents, 220 more than the latest census, it was impossible to imagine that it was the hub of anything.  Train tracks ran through the town, long in disuse, Illinois was ten miles to the west and Chicago one hundred miles due north on highway 41, not a single factor worthy enough to make it superior to any of the surrounding communities.  It's most distinguishing feature was its Carnegie Library.  That can certainly stir civic pride, but not to the heavens.



I had to wait an hour for its noon opening to take advantage of its wifi, as it required a password.  Even if I could have guessed it, I wouldn't have been able to use it, as it wasn't turned on.  The library isn't open on Saturday or Sunday, but for an hour each day its wifi is turned on via an automatic timer for locals in need.  The librarian didn't live in town, so she didn't know how many people take advantage of it, though there has been no demand to extend the hours.   The town may not have grown significantly since the Carnegie was built, but there was hubris enough in the town to have raised the funds for an addition doubling its size and adding an elevator.

I had crossed the Wabash River for the second time on this trip twenty miles back where I visited Carnegies in Attica and Williamsport,  three miles apart, straddling the river that further south forms the border between Indiana and Illinois.  I could have camped along its forested banks, but there was too much traffic to discreetly leave the road and disappear, so I found a patch of forest a mile away on a less travelled road.  It was my fourth night in a row since leaving Bloomington that I had found a forest to camp in, as I most often do in France, but rarely in the US, especially in the flatlands.

I had visited the gallant Carnegie in Attica on a previous trip and was happy to renew my acquaintance.  It sits on a rise looking towards a park along the Wabash, but one can't actually see the river, just a McDonald's before the bend in the road that hides it.  It has a large addition to its rear that does nothing to detract from its magnifence.



Williamsport is Attica's lesser twin.  Rather than expanding its Carnegie it built a new library.  A lucky resident, who has a furniture business, now lives in the Carnegie and proudly maintains it.  He even had an open house for its one hundredth anniversary.  It was tastefully adorned with pumpkins and other non-scary Halloween decorations.




I had ridden on quiet county roads with anti-wind turbine signs for over twenty miles from Colfax.  It was one of a trio of Carnegies within twenty miles who all had had additions to their sides that now provided the entrance to the library, with the former entrance up a set of stairs no longer in use, defeating the Carnegie notion of going upwards to gain knowledge.



Part of the Colfax addition served as the local museum.  It was packed with photographs and uniforms from residents who had served in the military and a selection of the school athletic uniforms from over the years.  A portrait of the first librarian, Maude Rosenberger, who served from 1917 to 1954, hung on the wall.  At the entry was a list of all thirteen librarians, all women, and most preceded by a "Mrs.," though not Maude. The present librarian, Brenda Kingston, who grew up in Colfax, didn't realize she was the thirteenth.  

A plaque acknowledged the library was on the Register of National Historic Places.  So too was the Rosenberger general store, Brenda told me. She was the second librarian in two days who had told me of a local building with such a designation.  That sent me to Wikipedia, where I discovered that Indiana has 1,884 buildings on the Register, listed by county, of which Indiana has 92.  I could add them to my quest along with the Carnegies.   That could keep me busy until the end of my days.  There are 91,882 across the country and counting.  Seventeen states have more than Indiana. New York leads all with 5,908.  Massachusetts is next with 4,269.  

There are quite a few Carnegies on the list, but there is no quick, easy way to determine how many as putting in a search for Carnegie Library wouldn't turn them all up, as some of the Carnegies on the list are merely designated as a library.  Such was the case with the library in Thornton, nine miles south of Colfax. It's addition to its side didn't disqualify it from the list.  It too had had a recent hundredth anniversary. The celebration included a play written by a school girl about the founding of the library.



Since crossing into Indiana the scenery has been augmented by sermon titles on message boards outside churches.  One in Thornton couldn't have been more topical. 



No less so was this shortly after crossing into Indiana, as if announcing I had entered the Bible Belt. 



Darlington had the least compatible addition to its Carnegie of about any I've come upon, just marginally attached and sitting hunched below the majestic original.  It was now the approved entrance.



After Boswell I'll cross into Illinois where a string of five Carnegies await me before I turn north to Chicago.  With such fine fall cycling I'm in no hurry to end these travels.  I might even head up to the northwest corner of the state where there are another five Carnegies that have eluded me, including one in Galena.









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